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Page URL: https://practice.orangatamariki.govt.nz/practice-approach/practice-standards/ensure-safety-and-wellbeing/ensure-safety-and-wellbeing-guidance/
Printed: 19/05/2024
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Last updated: 08/11/2017

Ensure safety and wellbeing — guidance

I will take action every time I am worried about harm to te tamaiti, in order to protect them from harm and the impact of this on their long term wellbeing.

I will know I've achieved this standard when...

I have taken action each time I have become concerned about risk of harm to te tamaiti, at any point during their engagement with Oranga Tamariki

  • Keeping te tamaiti safe and free from harm is a critical aspect of our practice from the first time we become involved with te tamaiti and their family and whānau, until we end our involvement. Throughout this time, it is important to be alert to signs which indicate risk of harm and to respond as soon as possible to prevent harm from occurring. We must also respond quickly to reduce the risk of future harm to the wellbeing of te tamaiti.
  • Harm and the risk of harm can be the result of what someone else does, or does not do, to te tamaiti. It can also be the result of the actions of te tamaiti. The level of harm will differ depending on the actions or behaviours causing the harm, the situation or environment they occur in, and the individual characteristics of te tamaiti. The key consideration is not on the suspected or reported behaviour, but the impact or potential impact of this on te tamaiti. Be particularly vigilant in recognising the behaviours of te tamaiti when emotional distress, self-harm, suicide, and substance use is a concern.
  • There are a number of ways you can be aware of harm or risk of harm to te tamaiti:
    • When it is reported by te tamaiti.
    • When it is reported by someone else.
    • Through the behaviour of te tamaiti.
    • Through being aware of the impact of specific events or situations on te tamaiti.
  • If te tamaiti tells you they are being (or are at risk of being) harmed, take this seriously and find out what their experience has been and how they are feeling. Talk with them in language they understand and validate what they say. It may be very hard for them to talk about their experiences, so acknowledge their bravery. Do something with what they tell you so they can see that you believe them, and involve them in this. Their immediate safety is your first concern.
  • Making te tamaiti safe is about ensuring both their physical and emotional safety. This means understanding and dealing with the impact of the harm te tamaiti has experienced which can last beyond the ‘event’ or ‘events’ that led up to it. Pay attention to the age, developmental needs, physical, emotional and cognitive abilities, and past experiences of te tamaiti when responding to concerns. Your plan for te tamaiti needs to incorporate actions to help them deal with their trauma history and risk of re-traumatisation, and provide opportunities to develop skills which promote resilience.
  • Being alert to the risk of harm also means being aware of the impact of decisions when we intervene in their lives. When te tamaiti has been living in an unsafe environment, this is likely all they have ever known. Moving them to an unfamiliar caregiving situation which is safe will still add to the trauma experienced by te tamaiti, by disrupting key relationships and having to cope with unfamiliar surroundings.
  • If you are worried about te tamaiti but aren’t sure what to do, talk with your supervisor and get the support you need to clarify your concerns and decide what action to take.

My assessment of risk has taken account of both the immediate safety needs of te tamaiti, and any risks to their long-term wellbeing as a result of cumulative harm or unmet need

  • Assessing the safety and risk of harm for te tamaiti is not just about making sure they are physically safe, it also means addressing the impact of the harm te tamaiti has experienced which can last beyond the event or series of events that created it. The way each tamaiti experiences harm can differ depending on the cause and context of the harm and the individual characteristics of te tamaiti. The key consideration is the impact or potential impact of harm on te tamaiti, not simply the suspected or reported behaviour itself.
  • As well as responding to the unique features of a harmful event it is important that you recognise and assess the impact of cumulative harm on te tamaiti in your response. Although a single or isolated incident of abuse or neglect may not appear to have a lasting effect on te tamaiti, a number of abusive or neglectful incidents over a period of time can have a significant negative impact on the ability of te tamaiti to build resilience, and on their long term wellbeing. Repeated exposure to harmful events and neglect diminishes the sense of safety, stability and wellbeing of te tamaiti.
  • Every time you receive a report of concern about te tamaiti you need to look back in our records to see if they have previously experienced or potentially experienced harm. An incident that may seem relatively harmless on its own may seem less so once you have taken their history into account.
  • It is possible te tamaiti may display various behaviours which suggest there is a history of trauma for them, but some of those behaviours may not be as apparent as others or as easy to recognise. It’s important to understand that just because you can’t ‘see’ obvious indications of trauma; it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Signs of trauma or developmental impairments in te tamaiti may be subtle, delayed or misinterpreted as naughty or defiant behaviour.
  • It is important to be aware of the way physical and emotional needs change as te tamaiti grows and develops. You need to strengthen your understanding of their needs at any given time, and to be alert to the signs of trauma and developmental impairments in te tamaiti at each development stage.
  • In addition to past experiences of harmful events, your assessment will need to consider the specific needs of te tamaiti in relation to their age and developmental needs, and physical and psychological capacity. For example, experiences that can be tolerated by a 12 year old can be life altering for an infant or a 12 year old with a developmental impairment. Te tamaiti with a strong sense of belonging and cultural identity will be more resilient to harmful events than te tamaiti who does not feel the same sense of connectedness.
  • Your assessments of tamariki need to take account of their holistic wellbeing: their health and development; their hopes and dreams; the capacity of those caring for them to nurture and develop their wellbeing and the wider whānau or family and environmental factors. Assessments need to include a focus on ‘safety’ (both being safe and feeling safe), ‘security’ (knowing that basic needs are met) and ‘stability’ (relationships, connectedness and a sense of belonging, resilience and emotional wellness).

Where harm has occurred I have taken action to identify and address the impact of that harm on te tamaiti including any trauma they may have experienced

  • It is imperative that we recognise and respond to the needs of te tamaiti where harm has occurred, including recognising and responding to any trauma that may be present and impacting on their wellbeing. We must also consider the ‘readiness’ of te tamaiti for trauma interventions. Our preparation for supporting them in this area needs to include consultation with supervisors and others who may have the skills required to help determine the needs of te tamaiti. We need to put in prior preparation and planning before treatment is provided, and it is important to ensure te tamaiti is safe and stable as part of the process.
  • It is also important to ensure those with the appropriate skills and services are available to support te tamaiti in their healing and recovery from the impacts of trauma. This support should be available over time, as required.
  • The timing of support for te tamaiti is important, so try to make sure their living situation is stable. Consider the amount of change that te tamaiti can manage at any one time and be aware of other changes occurring for them, such as starting a new school or adjusting to the impact of their caregiver being unwell.
  • Tamariki experience the impact of harmful events as trauma. Their response to trauma is dependent on the nature of the harmful event or events, and their individual characteristics and circumstances. We know that traumatic experiences can have a profound impact on tamariki across all areas of their development and, when not addressed, increase the risk of social, physical, learning and mental health problems in adolescence and adulthood. The likelihood of poor outcomes for tamariki with unresolved trauma, including developmental impairment, means it is critical that you not only focus on the physical safety of te tamaiti but also identify and address their trauma.
  • Trauma is not always easy to identify and can present as a range of external behaviours which can be misinterpreted. Misinterpreting what is going on for te tamaiti can result in responses which are more harmful than helpful, such as unplanned transitions, practices such as seclusion, or exposure to aggression that trigger trauma responses. These types of responses can create a new layer of trauma that diminishes the opportunity for te tamaiti to heal.
  • In order for you to accurately identify the impact of harmful experiences on te tamaiti, you need to have a good understanding of what te tamaiti is experiencing, feeling and thinking. Don’t make assumptions and remain curious about what is going on for te tamaiti:
    • Consider the developmental needs, including attachment and cultural needs, of te tamaiti and look through the lens of those unique needs for what you can expect from them.
    • Use supervision for support, to test and broaden your thinking, and explore options of support for te tamaiti. Use the Child and Family Consult tool to aide your discussion.
    • Draw on multi-disciplinary expertise to support your assessment and analysis.
  • When te tamaiti is experiencing trauma, or they have developmental impairment associated with harmful events, it’s important that you create the environment and circumstances for te tamaiti to heal or to be responsive to their specific needs:
    • Look for protective factors such as inherent strengths of te tamaiti (temperament, cognitive ability, positivity, self-esteem and self-efficacy), and significant relationships including positive whānau relationships. Consider how or whether a primary relationship/s for te tamaiti can be restored to promote recovery and healing.
    • Separation from a primary caregiver is always very traumatic for tamariki despite the quality or nature of the care relationship. Transitions, like changing from primary to secondary school, may trigger the need to consider risks and needs about safety, security and stability. Ensure you have well planned and well managed transitions to promote the adaptability of te tamaiti.
    • Ensure that everyone who has a significant role in the life of te tamaiti understands the needs of te tamaiti and has the skills and support to meet those needs. Work closely with these significant people to identify and capitalise on their collective and individual strengths and establish what support they need to create a circle of support around te tamaiti.
    • The people providing care for te tamaiti, parents, whānau or caregivers, are pivotal. They also need to understand the developmental signs of trauma in order to protect te tamaiti from further, possibly unintentional, harmful experiences. It is important for carers to have realistic expectations of te tamaiti and to know what to expect as te tamaiti grows and develops in their care. For example, trauma based behaviours can reappear after a period of settled behaviour and the impact of trauma in a previously settled and compliant tamaiti can suddenly present itself as te tamaiti grows and experiences new challenges. It is critical to know how to respond to the needs of te tamaiti as their needs develop and change over time.

I assess the risk to public safety by te tamaiti who has offended

  • In working with te tamaiti who has offended, part of your assessment involves understanding the attitudes they may have towards their offending, and possible risks related to this. Consider the experiences of trauma for te tamaiti and how the trauma might be contributing to offending.
  • You also need to consider information related to the offending profile of each tamaiti who has offended, as this can provide important insights into the history of offending by te tamaiti over time, and there may be important patterns of offending to consider.
  • In addition to this background information, it is important to consider a range of other types of information. Consider the following questions as some useful prompts:
    • What attitudes and feelings have they expressed as you have interacted with them?
    • Do they display anti-social thoughts and behaviour?
    • Who do they associate with? Are their friends or peer group also tamariki who offend and do they associate with older offenders?
    • Is it safe for te tamaiti to live at home or to remain in the community within some other placement? Do they live in an environment where offending is normalised?
    • Do the Police and/or Youth Court have any concerns regarding te tamaiti who has offended?
    • Where are there viable community options as alternatives to placing te tamaiti in custody?
    • In this window of opportunity as I engage with te tamaiti and their needs - how can I take a ‘strengths-based’ approach in my practice, and work with the police and local providers to help te tamaiti to succeed with their plan and longer term, so they will not present risk to the public or themselves in the future.
  • Ensure that the proper supports are provided to te tamaiti who has offended and their whānau or their caregivers, to reduce the possibility of further offending. Also provide support for te tamaiti to abide by any bail or other conditions arising from their offending.
  • Know what local and national services are available to you to provide on-going services to te tamaiti and their whānau. Having a local organisation or person who connects with te tamaiti during and post any intervention that Oranga Tamariki has undertaken, will reduce the risk of re-offending by te tamaiti and continue to promote their wellbeing.

I advocate for the best possible outcomes for te tamaiti and challenge when things aren’t right for them

  • As a child centred practitioner who knows a lot about the tamariki you are working with, part of your role is to effectively advocate for the rights and needs of te tamaiti to ensure all of their needs are going to be met now and into the future. Your advocacy also includes ensuring te tamaiti has access to the best services and supports that will meet their needs, finding ways for them to participate in the events that positively impact upon them, providing them with feedback and updates, and including their views about progress.
  • Hold high aspirations for te tamaiti and support them to have aspirations for themselves. Then focus on supporting and enabling them to achieve these. It is important to know and understand the developmental potential of te tamaiti and to assist them to reach their full potential.
  • Ensure the needs of tamariki are visible. We know that 10% of tamariki we work with are likely to have a disability. When you are working with te tamaiti with a disability, create a person characteristic so it is visible within the Tuituia assessment record.
  • Use supervision to explore the possibilities for tamariki, especially the possibility of trauma in their lives, whether or not actual traumatic events are known about.
  • Work collaboratively with whānau and professionals to provide the right support for te tamaiti. Ensure the plan for te tamaiti is based on sound assessment, has agreed goals and is explicit about the roles and responsibilities of te tamaiti, whānau or family and professionals. Monitor the effectiveness of plans for te tamaiti and review them regularly, always being alert to aspects which are not achieving what they should be. Even best laid plans do not always run smoothly and when a plan is not achieving what it needs to for te tamaiti, you need to get everyone together and make changes so it does.
  • It is important to recognise the impact of cultural processes on tamariki and their whānau and be aware of trauma which is transferred across generations. Work with tamariki and their whānau or family in ways that support their safety, trust, choice and empowerment.